Monday, August 17, 2009

on health, causality, and indulgence

Ever since I was a wee lil' tike, I've always confounded doctors and annoyed friends with my normal propensity to health. This started with my teeth.

Like everyone, I was given lots of instructions on proper tooth care. I saw the goofy films in elementary school. I had teachers and dentists alike demonstrate proper flossing technique on oversized demonstration dentures. One year, they even gave us these pills which, when we sucked on them after brushing, supposedly showed all the plaque we missed by making it purple. I was assured that proper dental hygiene would surely mark the difference between a life of friends, women, fame, and fortune, and a life lived in a cardboard box in a gutter of a ghetto, with only a rabid mouse for company.

In spite of all this cajoling and instruction, I took minimal care of my teeth while a troublesome youth. I brushed swiftly, without purpose. I found flossing vexing and tedious, so I abandoned it for months at a time. Yet I still didn't get cavities. While my siblings were getting their teeth drilled, I would laugh, having learned that the road to happiness and well being lay in total and absolute sloth.

Similarly, with my health, I never broke a bone. I would get colds, but I never had much worse. I never needed my tonsils removed. I never had chicken pox. And I never got rabies, tapeworms, or elephantiasis...of any region.

It was only after realizing I was getting old (thanks to a cute chick I met my first year in Ohio, who loved repeatedly reminding me of my ancientness) that I started to really think about taking care of myself. There were, however, problems. First, I was working for my Ph.D., so anything save reading and writing did not fit into my schedule. Then there was the related health care crisis (short version: it sucked, then I had none). When I finally got good insurance, I felt physically worn down. Additionally, thanks to the general inertia of the scholarly lifestyle (and breakfasts consisting of a whole slab of deep-fried bacon wrapped around a stick of butter), I had gained roughly 437 pounds. It was with a certain amount of trepidation and fear that I was able to schedule a physical to see exactly how far I had slipped.

I reserved time with a general practitioner, a dentist, and an opthamologist. I was poked, prodded, x-rayed, stabbed, and bled. They cut open my head to check on the state of its internal parts.

How did I fare? In spite of everything, there were no problems. Even though I had lived on a grad school diet for years, my cholesterol and all that were fine. My vision was no worse than ever. Even my teeth were relatively solid.

I've been thinking about all of this for a few reasons. First off has been my recent string of summertime injuries (2008's knee then foot, and 2009's toe) have left me shaken. They've also left me wondering if my body, much like my students, is now engaged in a full-blown effort to make me feel old.

That's not all, though. Last week, I was deep into the "friends are visiting, leaving, moving in" week-long drinking binge/spree/lifestyle. Every night for eight days, I found myself either at a bar, a porch, or a street corner, with adult beverages on the agenda. Now I enjoy drinking more than most, but this stretch of bar time, fueled by special occasions and guests, began to feel relentless. Every morning, my stomach felt mildly uncertain and my head felt like cotton. I was losing the ability to focus on anything other than "this is what touring musicians must feel like all the wonder many second albums suck." I surprisingly never had a monstrous hangover the entire week (no splitting headache, no spinning rooms), yet in spite of this, I was getting sick of the daily feeling of uncertainty, both mentally and physically.

I was actually looking forward to my first night of sobriety, when no one would call, asking if I wanted beer, a cigar, or both. I was looking forward to going to bed sober, waking up sober, doing actual work. I was looking forward to reaping the benefits of clean, healthy living.

Of course, I immediately got a cold. And, wouldn't you know, it's not going away all that quickly. Ever since I quit my binge, I've had minor yet persistent mucus production, a sore throat, a transient feverish haze, and a general feeling of "woah" that's prevented me from doing much of anything.

I'm officially sick of it. I'm sick of feeling weird. I'm sick of sitting on the couch watching television. I've seen more HGTV than I can stand. I'm sick of not being able to do much of my own, very necessary, extremely time-sensitive work. I'm sick of the Oscar Wilde-esque fever dreams.

The worst part of all this, however, is that I can't even find a decent metaphor or meaning in all this. "Quit drinking and you will get sick" is not something I really want to believe. "The summer will always end in tears and misery" is too depressing, even for me. I can't shake the comment of a girl I knew in high school, who always told me that I didn't have a cold, it was my brain melting out of my head...but I'm really hoping that one's not right either.

Today's thought is that maybe the drinking then getting sick thing might be connected in some way. Maybe cause is starting to finally catch up with effect. Behavior finally starts yielding results. Baudrillard was wrong.

I certainly hope not. But even if the return of causality is the only lesson to be learned here, I just wish it wouldn't have manifested itself on my health. The end of summer is not, after all, the ideal time to dwell on one's lack of invincibility.

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